Concussion: An Unexpected Journey

In my last post I talked about flare fear. Well, several months later and I’m happy to report that I haven’t experienced any particularly bad flare ups. In fact, I recently followed up with my Immunologist and we were excited to realize I’d only had two infections since last we met six months previously. A new record!

So good news is, I haven’t flared. Bad news is, I did fall. Literally.

On Valentine’s Day I was walking up to class. It was a routine day–grey but warm for February. I went to step off the sidewalk onto the road. And….. BAM. Suddenly, for reasons I cannot remember, my face was slamming into the road.

I must have tripped. My hands must have gotten tangled in my jacket pockets–they weren’t there to break my fall. More than anything, I remember being surprised. I suppose that is a normal reaction when gravity suddenly decides to drop-kick you with an asphalt-toed boot.

My face hit the road, there was a lot of internal jostling, I turned over, sat up and said the first thing that came into my ringing head–“ow.”

My second thought was of my glasses, which had popped off my face at some point in the collision and had miraculously escaped serious damage.

Then I got up and went to class.

This may seem a strange reaction to assault via gravity, but you must remember two things:

  1. When one is concussed, one is unaware of many things, including the fact that one is concussed.
  2. It’s hard to think when one has a concussion, so it naturally doesn’t occur to one to do anything but what one normally does.

So I went to class, not considering that I ought not to go to class, nor that I ought to do something else–like maybe see a doctor.

It was in class that I gradually became aware that something was off. Obviously, my head and face hurt a lot. But in addition, everything was all at once both fuzzy and sharp; the faces, voices, movements, words felt oddly disconnected and unreal, as if either they or I were submerged in water as they swirled in an untidy vortex around me. Fuzzy. Floating.

I tried to focus on the lecture, but found that the professor’s words held no meaning for me unless I really, really thought about them–like translating it from a different language into English.

I tried to take notes, but suddenly writing, too, was incredibly difficult. It felt like I was a little kid again, having to really focus on how to form each letter on the paper–my hand movements awkward and clumsy.

After sitting, dazed, through two classes, I gave up and went home. The next day I went and saw one of our awesome athletic trainers, who confirmed my suspicions—I had a concussion. She then told me I would need to take the weekend off from school and pretty much everything else—no reading, writing, or anything that aggravated my head whatsoever.

My face on day 1

A whole weekend! At the time, it was unfathomable. How could I possibly go an entire weekend without reading?

Well, three weeks later I was doing hard time in concussion lock down; not only could I not do any of my schoolwork, I couldn’t even make it through just sitting in class! Everything was utterly exhausting. I needed 11 hours of sleep at night plus at least one nap in the day, especially if I’d done something. My head hurt all the time and the world seemed to be constantly rocking, as if I was on a boat. I finally had to make the decision to withdraw from my classes.

It was devastating.

At three months post road-dive, I was hardly any better. It felt like I would never be the same.

At about the four-month mark I discovered vestibular physical therapy. There isn’t a vestibular therapist nearby, but I got an at-home exercise plan off the internet and followed it religiously. This meant a good two hours a day doing head, eye, and body movements that triggered dizziness, head pain and exhaustion (beyond the baseline). BUT, within two weeks I was able to start reading a little bit at a time again. Within eight weeks of doing vestibular PT everyday, I was almost completely back to normal.

Now, after nearly eight months, I can honestly say I’m back to normal—something I sometimes felt would never happen. I’m in my first semester of senior year (again) and doing great! I’m not struggling with my classes, as I’d feared I might, and I’m even getting to be a TA for three sections of Freshman Composition.

When I was at the start of my concussion journey, I felt like I was in a black hole. I could see no way out or up—I felt totally powerless. But I discovered many things to help me cope and ultimately heal! I’ll start sharing those with you next time.

For now, just know that we can heal. It takes time. Like way more time than we want it to. But it can happen.

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